Making Writing Real with Jim Egerton (another one!)

I turned the page and my heart dropped into the pit of my stomach. ‘Formal writing’ for my Advanced group of 17-18 year olds. Oh please. Not again…Too often so painfully contrived and disconnected from reality.

Then I remembered that it’s not so bad – as long as the writing is authentic and has a purpose, you can turn eye rolls into ‘eye of the Tiger’ motivation (not expressed externally but you can see it…sort of). I’d written and presented as much in a webinar called Making Writing Real last year, so it was time to walk the walk again.

Who did I know who could engage them? Who might receive their formal letters? Who might even reply to my learners, if I asked very nicely?

Enter Jim Egerton, my namesake from Chicago, USA, whose acquaintance I made on Facebook simply because we share a name (a bloody good reason!). There are all sorts of James Egertons out there but I struck gold, as this one is an academic, an entrepreneur and an all-round good man. I bought Jim’s book ‘Business on the Board’ on analogies between chess and business/leadership strategies last Christmas, and having read it myself, decided to use a couple of the pages on leadership in my lesson.


I had to prove he was a real person, mind, by showing them my copy of the book, messages on my Facebook account and a video on YouTube:

After going through and understanding Jim’s ideas in the book, I got the students to formulate and articulate their own thoughts on the matter. So the fact that these young people in my class could use the writing techniques to write to a real person, on such an important topic to boot, was fantastic, and they really took it on with commitment.

Jim went the extra mile in his replies too, replying to each of them individually and answering their specific comments with great insight. It was also an excellent learning opportunity to analyse how Jim used his American English (e.g. recognize), and how his replies were less formal than my students’ initial letters reaching out (e.g. ellipsis – Love all the questions…without ‘I’).

Below are the emails sent and the emails received (with permission from the authors), but aside from the didactic value, we were honoured that a stranger took so much time and effort to help us out. That’s a Christmas present of true value:

Dear Mr. Egerton,

I am writing to you to ask you some questions about your superb book “Business on the board”, and tell you my personal opinions about it.

First of all I would like to say that I totally agree with your idea of a leader, and with the specific and useful abilities that a leader must have to be considered as such. I, though, think that a true leader, besides thinking only of himself, should think also of others, helping them in every situation, when needed.

I consider myself as a leader in certain situations, for example in my basketball team. During matches I try to motivate my teammates to let them play better and harder, and I take risks without any problem.

I would like to know if you consider those abilities as useful for a leader, and I am also really curious to know when you act as a leader and in how you do this.

I very much look forward to reading your answers.

Yours sincerely,

Edoardo Monetti

Hey Edoardo,

Great question about how leadership is displayed in different arenas. Leaders get things accomplished through other people. Leaders are the ones through their vision that give followers direction on what needs to be done.

You can be a great leader on the basketball floor and in the locker room, but if the coach calls a timeout, he is the leader in that huddle. To me the greatest leaders are situational. They recognize the possibly unique situation they are in and step up to the challenge of facing the test. I would assume your teammates consider you a good player who can show through your actions you know what needs to get done in basketball. Taking smart risks that offer generous rewards is a sign of intelligent leadership. Like fouling a notoriously bad free throw player instead of giving them a simple layup.

I have found the act of teaching to be one of the most impressive ways of being a leader. The teacher leads the students along a path to more useful knowledge or skill. But in your case the leader (basketball coach) cannot play the game, it is you guys on the floor that make victory possible.

And of course I think chess is a great way to practice leadership skills, like delegating, evaluating and visualizing what needs to get done.

Hope that helps all of you. You ask very discerning questions and thrilled that the game that has helped me with much of my success can do the same for you.


Mr. Egerton (you know the one who isn’t grading your papers)

Dear Mr. Egerton,

My name is Federico Orsaria and this week we read an extract of your book in class (pg. 18-19 “What Leaders See”).

In my opinion t is important for a good leader to know how to use and recognize the potential of every member of staff, just like pieces in chess. He also has to be open-minded and has to be capable of relating with different people and motivating them as much as possible in order to achieve the highest goals.

I think that a leader is important not only in the work world but also in sports such as in football. In fact, he has to motivate all his teammates, anticipate the opponent’s next move and has to take the responsibility of a loss or a victory.

I also would like to know if is important for a leader to know some techniques present in chess and how much it is important for a leader to have a staff that can support him during difficult decisions.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

Federico Orsaria

Hey Federico,

Love all the questions about sports and games you guys are having. Everyone knows that if you want to be good at something you have to practice. Sometimes it takes thousands of hours to be just better than average. When you say football you mean soccer right? In the USA it’s two different games.

Many times a team is not playing well together. The coach is not producing a winning effort. Do the owners fire all the players who are underperforming? Nope – they fire the coach. In chess we call that the skewer tactic, an owner cannot take the blame for a bad team so they fire the coach. In our country in business it’s called “getting thrown under the bus.” It just happened here in Chicago, our 3-time Stanley Cup coach with the 2nd most wins in NHL history was fired. The players have not done well since and the team is in a downward spiral.

I think having a tool box full of strategies and tactics that come from chess are powerful and yield a competitive advantage. You have to know what your employees can do and what your chess pieces are capable of as well. If your pieces are misplaced you have no one to blame but yourself. Soccer and business are both competitive games, if you can anticipate your opponents next move how cool is that? Being able to see the future, (who is getting the next pass in soccer) can win or lose the game. In chess your pieces are always loyal to you. In business it’s not always the case in the skewer that I mentioned above.

So many games at the very end when they are close turn into a chess game. Each side is trying to make a move that gives them the winning advantage. In chess, like tennis, you are out there alone. In other sports you are part of a team. The great leader as you say gets the most out of what he has to work with and the rest as they say is “history”.

Hope that helps all of you. You ask very discerning questions and thrilled that the game that has helped me with much of my success can do the same for you.


Mr. Egerton (you know the one who isn’t grading your papers)

Dear Mr Egerton,

I am writing to you because last Wednesday in my English class we read an extract from your book “Business on the Board”, in particular the section called “What Leaders See” which I found brilliant and I thought that it would be interesting to share my thoughts on this theme with the author himself.

About the “theory” expressed in the extract, I am in total agreement about the characteristics that the leader should have: he has to take responsability, he has to be perceptive and clever in dealing with threats. The examples adopted are clearly suitable for the concepts. The comparison of every example with chess technique is very clear and well presented.

In my personal experience I have recognised the figure of the leader in my karate teacher. In fact, he motivates his students and give them examples of what to do by doing the things himself and leading by example. Also, when I was younger I used to play football with my friends and in the team there was always someone who would to be a leader but most of the time they failed due to a lack of perception and a leader’s mentality.

In conclusion, I want to ask a couple of question about your book. The first question is: Do you think chess is the only suitable hobby to talk about this theme? And the second is: Are there some world-renowned people that could be considered an example of a perfect leader?

I very much look forward to reading your answer.

Yours sincerely,

Luca Terribile

Hey Luca,

Again, love all the analogies you are using about sports and games in this case karate and football (soccer). Thank you for the kind words on what you read in the book. In your karate teacher instance, he is known as a leader by example case. He knows what he is talking about can demonstrate to you the value of what he knows and is sharing with you and does it himself. In business we say he doesn’t just “talk the talk but walks the walk”.

Chess by no means is the only suitable hobby to help with leadership. It gives you a great place to practice leadership skills like managing, delegating, evaluating, creating strategies etc. I also teach and play tennis. When we play doubles, I like to be a leader with my partner by exploiting our opponent’s weaknesses covering our parts of the court, rooting for the next point, etc. I do that because since I teach the game most of my suggestions come from best practices in tennis. We don’t always execute but that’s way different that not knowing what to do in the first place.

Tennis and chess are very similar games from a mental perspective. See my “Chess – A Practice Court for the Mind” article on my website or on the internet to see what I mean. In karate, I’m sure your instructor has told you if a certain kick or punch is coming at you, what you need to do to defend yourself. Plus you are learning to anticipate.

On the subject of perfect leader, everyone is human and as such makes mistakes. Certain leaders are better in one situation than another. That’s why I think situational leadership is the greatest style of all. Leaders have to find their way through an unknown situation drawing on their knowledge and experience. Since every game of chess becomes unique at some point you get a perfect chance to develop your situational leadership skills. Have you ever heard of an escape room challenge? It’s the same thing as playing out a chess game that has never occurred before.

There are some examples of great leaders in my book, but unfortunately there are just as many if not more of bad examples of leaders as well. Leadership has become very political here in the USA and instead of working together, we are pulling each other apart by highlighting our differences instead of our similarities. A great leader would appeal to all.

Hope that helps all of you. You ask very discerning questions and thrilled that the game that has helped me with much of my success can do the same for you.


Mr. Egerton (you know the one who isn’t grading your papers)

The beauty of writing to a real human being rather than an invention of the coursebook writer is, of course, that you might even get a reply from a real person. THIS IS MEANING.

Thank you Jim and Merry Christmas from all of us!



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